At first, "Kiss of the Dragon" had me. The action film, co-scripted by
Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita," "The Fifth Element") and Robert Mark
Kamen from a story by star Jet Li, quickly established itself as a
grisly, single-minded, hard-core martial arts comic book, with fighting,
fighting and more fighting. Fair enough, sounds good. But as the minutes
ticked by, the whole thing grew tiresome. After it became obvious that
Jet Li's character was absolutely unstoppable, the tension faded away. I
looked for something else to occupy my attention, but there simply was
nothing else there.
Jet Li plays Liu Jian, China's top cop, sent from Beijing to Paris to
assist local officers in protecting an important Chinese citizen. In
addition to being a martial arts master, Liu also has a way with
acupuncture needles. He can use them to make someone relax, paralyze a
foe or execute a move called "Kiss of the Dragon," which causes the
recipient to bleed from all orifices and die a particularly painful
death. God, this guy would be such a hit in Texas.
Things turn sour for Liu when the man he is supposed to protect is
murdered by the police officers he is supposed to work with. Inspector
Richard (Tcheky Karyo), the ringleader of the gang, frames Liu for the
killing, forcing Liu to hide in the red light district while trying to
sort things out. Along the way, he meets Jessica (Bridget Fonda) a North
Dakota mother, hooker and recovering junkie. Well, almost recovering.
Periodically, her pimp forcibly injects her with drugs to keep her
compliant, although that shouldn't be much of a problem, since he is
also holding her daughter hostage. And who is this horrible, horrible
man? Inspector Richard, of course.
Liu is presented as a man focused on his work to the exclusion of all
else. Aside from rage, he shows little emotion, save for one scene where
Jessica pokes into his personal life. "Are you married?" she asks. "No."
"Do you have a girlfriend?" "No." "Are you gay?" Finally, we see a spark
of emotion - panic - as he quickly replies, "No, I am not gay. I am NOT
gay." OK, so it appears Liu has no sexual relationships in his life.
Hmmm. Perhaps there are some other tricks he can do with his magic
Leaping from one seedy location to the next, "Kiss of the Dragon" keeps
the action churning, with each new battle more absurd than the last. One
takes place on a passenger-packed boat, with bad cops firing automatic
weapons in all directions. The scene is great eye candy, but it made me
wonder where the city's other police officers were during the shooting
spree. Are all of them corrupt or did Inspector Richard assign them to
work in the suburbs for the day?
Who knows and who cares? With a hammy performance by Karyo, a flat
performance from Fonda and a non-performance from Jet Li, "Kiss of the
Dragon" cares not a whit about logic or personality. This is simply an
exercise in hyper-violent showboating, a nihilistically pure look at
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott